2019 — A Review

Since I’ve seen quite a few year end reviews in the last few days, I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and look back on these past twelve months, too. First, there was the Iceland trip that so significantly impacted the photos for the year, and are a reminder both of how challenging and rewarding the trip was. The photos during a few weeks in spring of a newly discovered location at nearby Jordan Lake were a joy in watching the progression of the season as buds slowly morphed into leaves. A week in North Carolina’s beautiful Outer Banks was rewarded with plenty of clouds for the extra element of mood in the photos gleaned from that visit, and a few trips north to visit family had its own reward in getting to know and photographing the first grand-nephew. And finally, although the New Year has yet to begin, I did receive a copy during 2019, seeing a photo of mine included in the 2020 Sierra Club Engagement Calendar was the fulfillment of a photographic dream, and that un-cropped photo, although taken in 2017, is included among those here. All in all, a very good year.

Below is a selection of some of the more significant images from the previous 12 months, both for content, and/or personal connection. If you should be inclined, feel free to question the choices, how they came about, techniques used, or whatever comes to mind that you would like additional information, just add a comment. For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, or have recently joined and looked back through the posts during the year, if there are any suggestions you feel should be added to those included here, I’ll post them sometime in January.

But for now, I’d like to thank all those who have taken the time to read this blog, and wish you all a Happy New Year filled with fulfilled dreams.

 

4 - Failing Christmas Cactus

Failing Christmas Cactus © jj raia

1 - Five Cherry Leaves  © jj raia

Five Cherry Leaves © jj raia

11 - White Oak Marsh in Spring Bud – Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

White Oak Marsh in Spring Bud – Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

13 - Spring Buds at White Oak Marsh No.6 © jj raia

Spring Buds at White Oak Marsh No.6 © jj raia

14 - Filtered Light — Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Filtered Light — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Wild Wisteria & Pollen Pods — Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Wild Wisteria & Pollen Pods — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Spring Buds at White Oak Marsh - Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Spring Buds at White Oak Marsh – Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

10 - Maple Buds in Fog at White Oak Marsh — Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Maple Buds in Fog at White Oak Marsh — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Spring Buds — Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Spring Buds — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

15 - Spring Buds at White Oak Marsh No.3  G jj raia

Spring Buds at White Oak Marsh No.3 G jj raia

Foggy Flight — Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Foggy Flight — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

28 - Surf at Dusk No.4 — Corolla Beach, NC  © jj raia

Surf at Dusk No.4 — Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

19 - Amazing Sky — Corolla Beach, NC No.2 © jj raia

Amazing Sky — Corolla Beach, NC No.2 © jj raia

Fishing Boat at First Light — Corolla Beach, NC  No.2 © jj raia

Fishing Boat at First Light — Corolla Beach, NC No.2 © jj raia

Majestic Dawn — Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

Majestic Dawn — Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

20 - Buried Snag at First Light — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

Buried Snag at First Light — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

27 - Sand Patterns — Corolla Beach, NC  © jj raia

Sand Patterns — Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

21 - Dawn Light — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

Dawn Light — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

22 - Surf at Dusk No.1 — Corolla Beach, NC  © jj raia

Surf at Dusk No.1 — Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

26 - Surf at Sunrise No.1 - Cropped — Outer Banks, NC © jj raia

Surf at Sunrise No.1 – Cropped — Outer Banks, NC © jj raia

18 - Morning Light over Jordan Lake  © jj raia

Morning Light over Jordan Lake © jj raia

9 - Autumn Berries — Great Dismal Swamp SP, NC © jj raia

Autumn Berries — Great Dismal Swamp SP, NC © jj raia

12 - Bald Cyprus — Currituck Sound, NC  © jj raia

Bald Cyprus — Currituck Sound, NC © jj raia

Winter Lake — Mercer County, NJ  © jj raia

Winter Lake — Mercer County, NJ © jj raia

47 - Berg and Duck — Jokulsarlon, Iceland  © jj raia

Berg and Duck — Jokulsarlon, Iceland © jj raia

36 - Skogafoss With Stars © jj raia

Skogafoss With Stars © jj raia

34 - Early Light at Gulfoss — Iceland  © jj raia

Early Light at Gulfoss — Iceland © jj raia

32 - Storm Surf at Diamond Beach — Iceland  © jj raia

Storm Surf at Diamond Beach — Iceland © jj raia

38 - Dawn on Diamond Beach - Iceland No-3

Dawn on Diamond Beach – Iceland No-3 © jj raia

Grazing under Vindbelgjarfjall — Myvatn, Iceland  © jj raia

Grazing under Vindbelgjarfjall — Myvatn, Iceland © jj raia

31 - Snæfellsjökull at Dusk — Iceland  © jj raia

Snæfellsjökull at Dusk — Iceland © jj raia

48 - Jokulsarlon Sunset - Iceland No-1  © jj raia

Jokulsarlon Sunset – Iceland No-1 © jj raia

35 - Þjófafoss and Mt. Burfell — Iceland  © jj raia

Þjófafoss and Mt. Burfell — Iceland © jj raia

Húnafjörður at Dusk — Iceland  © jj raia

Húnafjörður at Dusk — Iceland © jj raia

Spring — Vik, Iceland  © jj raia

Spring — Vik, Iceland © jj raia

November Sky © jj raia

November Sky © jj raia

8 - White Wall — Rocky Mount, NC  © jj raia

White Wall — Rocky Mount, NC © jj raia

2 - Faded Plywood — Rocky Mount, NC  © jj raia

Faded Plywood — Rocky Mount, NC © jj raia

Barn — Vik, Iceland  © jj raia

Barn — Vik, Iceland © jj raia

3 - Reynisfjara Columnar Basalt  © jj raia

Reynisfjara Columnar Basalt © jj raia

Young Man  © jj raia

Young Man © jj raia

Painted Dunes Detail — Lassen Volcanic NP, CA

Painted Dunes Detail — Lassen Volcanic NP, CA © jj raia *

* taken in 2017

Winter Rain

Winter Lake — Mercer County, NJ  © jj raia

Winter Lake — Mercer County, NJ © jj raia

Earlier this month, on a trip to New Jersey to visit family and celebrate a 97th birthday, we stayed with my wife’s twin sister in a beautiful community that has plenty of natural areas and ponds that make it a wonderful place for walks and to enjoy nature. On a day of soaking rain and light mist, as is usually the case, all the colors of the woods were enhanced, and I kept an eye out for the rain to slow down enough to get out with the camera. I didn’t have the umbrella holder that attaches to one of the tripod legs normally used when it rains, so a plastic bag was used as a substitute. It’s a firm belief that electronics and water do not play well together, so I try to keep even a weather sealed camera, away from moisture.

The first pond I came to was only a short distance away, and the calm winds left the water smooth and reflective. Still setting up, I noticed two ducks slowly swimming toward my location, leaving a bright wake behind that might be used in any photo taken later, so I quickly raised the ISO and shutter speed to freeze their motion. The image itself was nothing of note, but the birds were sharp and the wake was a perfect leading line for whatever image they would be placed in later. The image above was the only one where they were inserted, but could have easily been placed in the image below as well, and when I have time after the holidays, I might try. The photograph seems to indicate that they should be placed more toward the left since the leaning trees lead from right to left. But we’ll see if it works out.

Winter Reflections No.2 — Mercer County, NJ  © jj raia

Winter Reflections No.2 — Mercer County, NJ © jj raia

The method is pretty straight forward, having both the image with and without the ducks open in Photoshop. Using the clone tool, the original sample was taken at the point just in front of the duck on the left. Then on a duplicate layer of the image without the ducks, after determining where they should be placed, simply begin “drawing” them in. If it turns out you don’t like the placement, simply trash the duplicate layer, create a new duplicate, and make another attempt at proper placement.

Winter Reflections No.1 — Mercer County, NJ  © jj raia

Winter Reflections No.1 — Mercer County, NJ © jj raia

After spending quite a bit of time at the first pond, I continued wandering around the neighborhood to several other small lakes, and found this singular white birch tree among a thicket of rain-soaked branches. There may have been a better angle for the photo, but to get into position would have meant going through the backyards of several homes, and opted not to push that envelope too far.

I ended up taking quite a few frames that morning, many of which were simply an effort to isolate some singular subject and were unsuccessful, but with the land being mostly level and limiting, it was necessary to use a telephoto to keep the bright sky out of the frame. It’s often preferable to shoot down for this type of image, to fill the frame with the textural elements rather than include the gray and distracting clouds. So I’m still happy to be able to do that with the added reach of the 300mm end of the new zoom rather than the previous 200mm, having a wider field of view, and not being able to get close enough, thereby losing quite a few pixels in cropping.

But, without everything being soaked and the resulting saturated colors, there would have been no images whatsoever, as I found out another day when I walked around again with an overcast, but with everything dry. I didn’t even take the camera out of the bag!!

 

Throwback Thursday No. 4

Images from the Film Archives — 1991

Hidden Alcove - Adirondak Mountains, NY  © jj raia

Hidden Alcove – Adirondack Mountains, NY © jj raia

Back in the early 1990’s when I had just gotten a medium format camera, I began taking one week trips in autumn to photograph some of the beautiful areas in the northeastern  US; places that were within driving distance from my home. The first trip was to New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and back then, I researched a trip by reading hiking books and thumbing through books by landscape photographers; mostly Eliot Porter, Galen Rowell and David Muench. Back then, there was no internet to see photos of places you might want to photograph, or videos to watch on your television or computer. VHS tapes and computers were in their infancy. But with all the reading I did to find specific locations to visit, many times it was the unknown spots just off the road or trail that provided the inspiration to take a photograph. Don’t get me wrong, three hour hikes to the top of a mountain were certainly rewarding, but I was still a novice at this whole landscape photography thing, and didn’t even have a headlamp to hike back down a mountain in the dark. And to be perfectly honest, in those early years I was a bit nervous hiking alone to begin with, much less doing it in the dark.

This image was discovered simply driving along one of the roads around Lake Placid, sight of the 1980 Winter Olympics. I caught a glimpse of some autumn leaves backed by some colorful rock that were tucked around a corner, just barely visible from the road. I turned the car around and headed back. Walking around the rock face that kept this alcove mostly hidden, I found a single, delicate birch tree bent over far enough to touch the water that filled a depression at the base of the rock face, and one other that stood upright. The leaves perfectly framed the two birches, and all of it caressed by the rock behind that picked up some of the blue from the clear sky above. It was a special place simply by its seclusion, living in silent serenity, perfectly content in remaining anonymous.

The photography was pretty straight forward, a normal (80mm) lens with a polarizer, and just trip the shutter. Everything else in the frame had been previously prepared by someone with a much higher pay grade than mine. But that encounter was not simply a discovery; it was an epiphany. It raised the question in me that would influence my photography thereafter, of how many other unknown places of visual harmony like this existed, waiting patiently to be discovered? Probably more than we can count. We only have to find them…

 

Throwback Thursday No. 3

Images from the Film Archives — 1992

Tillman Ravine — Stokes State Forest, NJ © jj raia

Tillman Ravine — Stokes State Forest, NJ © jj raia

As mentioned in a previous Throwback Thursday, I usually went out to photograph early in the morning, before some of the state parks and properties even opened, and some “arrangement” was needed to secure entry. After a sunrise shoot, I would generally scout around a bit in the car, just seeing what else might be around to shoot on a future outing before heading to a nearby diner for breakfast. With New Jersey’s abundance of diners, unlike the sparcity of them in the Raleigh area where I live now, there was never a problem finding one, and I became familiar with their locations as much as I was for photo locations throughout the state; and judgements on how good they were was based solely on their home fries!

Anyway, I visited this spot after one of those early shoots, and wanted to photograph it before any sunlight crept in to ravine, and of course, the entry was gated. But I knew the road through there also provided a back way to gain entry. So the plan was to use that back access for a morning shoot. What I had missed though, was another, almost hidden gate that blocked that road and my plan. Not to be denied, I had to park the car and quickly hoofed it the half mile or so, uphill (both ways) to the picturesque cascade. I did get there before any light filtered through, and replayed the scenario in winter to capture it with the virgin fluff of an overnight, 4-inch snowfall.

The driving force behind getting a large portfolio of images throughout the state, in all seasons, was to be able to supply them to statewide magazines, or anywhere for that matter, for publication within the two-year time limit set for this photographic pursuit. In addition, the stretch goal, was to have one selected for a calendar, thinking New Jersey was underrepresented in them, being saddled with the perception that the Garden State was no garden at all, but a cluster cities, highways and refineries. So in those early years, there were certainly no assurances that anything would come to pass…

Throwback Thursday No. 2

Images from the Film Archives — 1992

White Birches — Delaware Watergap NRA, NJ  © jj raia

White Birches — Delaware Water Gap NRA, NJ © jj raia

In response to what I read, and encouragement from my wife, it was suggested that I shoot mostly locally and get to know the areas well. By knowing how the light was during certain times of the year, learning what conditions might exist for particular weather patterns and locations, or when there may be flowers blooming, you might be better prepared to know what and where to shoot at any given time of the year. Additionally, by learning possible outlets that needed photos, if any of the work was to get published, there was a better chance of that by making local contacts.

So in the beginning, most of the photography during the year was centered around New Jersey, where I lived at the time. It’s one of the smaller states, and since I lived in the central part, most of it was accessible within a two hour drive. I always tried to get out at least one or two days a month on my days off from work, depending on the weather, season or family schedules, and did so for sunrise since getting up really early avoided rush hour traffic, which can be horrendous in the NY/NJ metropolitan area.

It was on one of those excursions to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, in the state’s northwest corner, that I discovered this thick stand of young birches interspersed with euonymus bushes whose leaves turn pink in autumn. I had to put the lens right against the trunk of another birch tree to get the proper angle for good separation of the closer trees, and clicked off a few shots just as it began to rain. It was such a beautiful scene, and I vowed to return to photograph it in every season. I did return in winter, but when I arrived in the spring, much of the stand in the distance, was bulldozed for a home to be built. I suppose it was outside the boundaries of the recreation area, but it destroyed the view altogether. The discovery was sad to be sure, but I was also encouraged that the image from the previous autumn would be unique.

 

 

 

Last Minute

Stormy Sunset — Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Stormy Sunset — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

With some storm clouds breaking up late last Sunday afternoon, I thought there might be the possibility of a great sunset. So I headed toward a favorite spot at Jordan Lake, but realized as I was driving, it would be too far south to where the sky had already cleared completely. So I was forced to frantically search for a spot where the lake would line up looking out toward the remaining clouds that covered only half the sky.

Without much success checking some of the other usual spots, time was running out for sunset, and I had to pull over at a place that seemed to have a trail leading off the road toward the lake that might have possibilities. I had never been there before and followed the trail through the mud to the edge of the lake, but there wasn’t any pleasant surprise waiting for me. By now, going anywhere else was out of the question, there was absolutely no time to scout for some foreground interest, or search for the best possible spot in this new location. The light was happening right now, and all I could do was throw the camera onto the tripod and use the edge of the lake as a leading line toward the drama unfolding. I didn’t want to take a long exposure to smooth the water since it would also blur the clouds that would then lose all their texture, and finally felt it best to have texture in both. I took about 6 frames, each 1-stop apart, to cover the dynamic range, and didn’t bother with the split ND filter that is usually added, being very short on time.

I’m not very sharp in Photoshop skills, and did my best to blend a few of the frames together since the HDR feature in Lightroom seemed to work, but when it was finished, the new combined photo never appeared! The scene was kept dark in the processing to maintain the mood, avoiding the temptation to brighten the grasses on the right, which made it look too artificial.

Other compositions were attempted after the light in the sky disappeared, but there are times when you know deep down that it’s over. And this was one of those times. At least I didn’t waste any film.

Throwback Thursday No. 1

Images from the Film Archives — 1991

8 Roses  © jj raia

8 Roses © jj raia

Since most of us are not full-time photographers, there is never a continuing stream of new work to talk about, so an idea that I’ve seen on facebook might translate well here. For a while at least, most Thursdays, I’ll post a short story of how a particular photograph from the film archives came about, and some thoughts that occurred at the time it was taken, and maybe any history that can be attributed to it. All were taken before 2012 with a Mamiya 645 Super medium format camera, various (4) lenses and 120 Fuji Velvia or Provia film. 2012 was the year I switched to digital, and haven’t taken a single roll of film since. It’s my hope that something can be passed along that may inspire some folks to go out and shoot, because I know when I look at photography on line or just flip through some of my favorite photo books, that’s my first thought afterwards. I just want to grab my camera and see what I can find. In addition, by talking about these photographs, I can relive those moments that were special during those early years of my photography, and get reacquainted with those wonderful early photo trips.